Magazine article University Business

Going Global: American Colleges and Universities Head to Distant Lands, and Approach the Challenge in Markedly Different Ways

Magazine article University Business

Going Global: American Colleges and Universities Head to Distant Lands, and Approach the Challenge in Markedly Different Ways

Article excerpt

These days, when U.S. colleges and universities talk about "going global," they may mean more than sending their students abroad in junior year, recruiting students from Europe, Asia, and Africa, or even piping their classes to Shanghai or Singapore over a broadband Internet connection. Some schools are setting up shop overseas to serve Local populations, either because they sense an opportunity, or because they've been invited by a host country in need of more education options. Still, it's hard to get a handle on how many schools have overseas branch campuses, because even accrediting bodies don't track those numbers.

"We know which of our institutions have locations abroad, but we don't formally collect data on whether any particular location serves only U.S. students," says Oswald Ratteray, assistant director for Constituent Services and Special Programs at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (

And at the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission (, which accredits IHEs in the Midwest, Executive Director Steven Crow reports, "We're starting to see some increased action." Crow says he's getting three to four new requests a year to set up overseas programs. The colleges' motivations to set up such programs vary.

"We want to train global citizens, and want our students to understand different ways of thinking," explains Richard Meyers, president of Webster University in St. Louis, which operates overseas campuses in seven countries and has more than 2,000 non-U.S. students.

Then too, there are the dollars; sometimes surplus revenue from overseas programs helps to fund activities on the home campus. At William Woods University (M0), there are plans under way to establish a program in Thailand to offer a master's degree in education. "There's money in this for us," says Vice President Betsy Tutt. "We don't have a Large endowment." The business plan for the first year of the program shows it breaking even with 40 students and tuition revenues of $288,000. It should eventually be a moneymaker, says Tutt, if all goes well. Plans were delayed this year because of concerns about SARS, she explains, but she hopes to get the program under way during the next school year. Certainly, there are always obstacles in such ambitious undertakings, but those who have been involved in such initiatives can offer valuable direction.


Webster University President Meyers recalls standing in an empty flew in Thailand in the Late 1990s with his vice president of Academic Affairs. "Remember in the movie Patton, when Patton went beyond his supply lines?" Meyers asked his colleague. "Do you think we've advanced beyond ours?"

At that point, Webster was about to expand into its sixth foreign country. Initially, the school had had a local partner, but they parted ways when Webster had the opportunity to take over the vacant real estate and build from scratch. Still the school had to obtain accreditation from Thai authorities as well as from its own U.S. accrediting body, the NCAHLC. What's more, the operation had to become self-supporting quickly, because all of Webster's ventures are funded by tuition dollars.

Fortunately, Like Patton, Webster prevailed. The Thailand campus launched in 1999 near the beach resort of Cha-Am, and currently serves 150 students. It joins successful Webster campuses in the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, and Austria; the university also operates an undergraduate business program in Japan and a graduate business program in China.

With programs designed to serve local students rather than U.S. students looking for a study-abroad experience, the university may have the most far-flung empire of any U.S. IHE. "Webster has done a superb job of capitalizing on global opportunities," says NCAHLC's Crow. "It's become a different kind of university." It has also become a well-oiled global education machine, with efficient systems and processes put together after years of inevitable trial and error. …

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